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Mario

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  • Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Transfers #13565

    Hi, I really don’t know what the transfer relates to. It is not normal, for most travelers.

    But are you staying at a hotel in Jamaica? I can only think that maybe the transfer is like the taxi to get you from your hotel or accommodations in Jamaica to the airport. So you would take the taxi going to the airport and then picking you up at the airport. Could this be it? Or else I have never heard of a transfer to be paid to get to Cuba. It might really be something specific to Jamaica and not to Cuba.

     

    Take care,

    Mario.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi,

    Your plan is ambitious. It is absolutely possible to do your plan exactly as you have written, but I wonder if this really is the best plan…

    You should look at my posts over here (https://bestcubaguide.com/forums/topic/14-day-itinerary/) and see what I have recommended for other people for their 2 week stay in Cuba.

    You say that “I want to see as much as possible.” An important thing to note is that it is usually better to stay in a few places where there is a lot to see rather than staying in many places where there is only a bit to see. In Havana, there is a lot to see. I recommend staying longer in Havana. In Santa Clara there is very little to see. The same goes for Pinar del Rio. Unless you have a particular thing that you want to see in these cities, you might want to bypass them.

    Also, Vinales is wonderful, but you might be wasting time if you are going to both Vinales and Trinidad. They are not the same, but they are similar. My recommendation would be to explore one area thoroughly rather than spending just 1 day in each place.

    Also, consider the driving time to get from one destination to the other. The drive from Vinales to Trinidad would take about 6 hours if you have a private taxi and over 8 hours in the Viazul bus. It wastes a whole day. 

    Also, you need time to plan excursions in each destination. If you want to go horseback riding in Vinales or Trinidad you have to plan that ahead of time. If you arrive just the day before, it might not happen. And then what if it rains and you cannot go…

    I recommend you spend 4 days in Havana. See the city properly.

    Then either go to Vinales or Trinidad. Or do both, but take it slow. Spend 3 days in Vinales. On the first day you can walk in the fields and see the plantations. Second day, go hiking on a hill. Third day, go on a horseback tour of the valley.

    Then you can go to Trinidad. Take a communal taxi as I have described here (https://bestcubaguide.com/forums/topic/entertainment-sat-night/#post-13474)

    But in Trinidad you will do similar things.. On the first day you can walk in the town. Second day, go hiking on a mountain. Third day, go on a horseback tour of the valley. But you can also go to the Topes de Collantes national park. It’s very beautiful. If you like these kinds of activities, you can easily spend 4 days in Trinidad. Plus there is a nice beach just beside Trinidad.

    Then if you want, on your way back to Havana you can stop in Cienfuegos a bit. It’s a nice place, but most people only spend a few hours there or stop for the night if they are tired. There is not that much to do there.

    If you take it slow in Cuba you will have more time to meet locals and learn about the culture and history. In Cuba the cities themselves are similar, in my opinion, but the people are different. I have always been happier to learn a few places very well rather than to see many places generally. Also, the advantage of seeing just a few places is that you waste less time driving around and have more time to relax and enjoy the surroundings.

    have a great day,

    Mario

     

     

     

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: Havana to Varadero #13462

    Hi, here are some answers:

     

    Taxis seem very expensive.

    Yes, taxis are not cheap. But they provide door to door service, and they are considerably faster than buses. A taxi from Havana to Varadero cost about 95$. You can sometimes find a cheaper rate if you hunt around and find a driver who is going in that direction. If you speak Spanish, this would help. Or else, it’s 95$, the trip takes about 2 hours and they pick you up in Havana and drop you off wherever you want in Varadero. You can see if you can find another couple of people to come in the taxi and split the cost with the other couple. It’s not difficult to find. Around the Viazul station there will be dozens of people who could not get bus tickets, looking to share rides with other people.

    Viazul bus seems reasonable price.

    Yes, the Viazul is pretty cheap. A trip from Havana to Varadero is 10cuc per person. It takes about 3.5 hours if I recall correctly. It’s reliable. There is air conditioning. it’s a good ride. But you have to consider that you will need to get to the bus station (located at the corner of 26th and Zoologico in Nuevo Vedado – west of Vedado… in front of the Havana Zoo). The trip from Old Havana to the bus station should cost about 5cuc, but some drivers might want as much as 10cuc. Don’t pay more than that. In Varadero the bus usually makes a stop in the town of Varadero, along the main street. You could get off there and then take a taxi to your hotel. The taxi would cost about 10 to 15cuc. Things are more expensive in Varadero and it’s actually a pretty big place, so the drive to your hotel might be up to 20 minutes. The main bus stop in Varadero is at the corner of 36th and the highway. You can also find a taxi there. It would probably be about the same price to get to your hotel. So, for 2 people, the trip to Varadero, from Old Havana would cost on the low end, about 35cuc total. If your taxis are more expensive, it can cost about 45cuc total. It’s a good savings, but it takes more time than a direct taxi.

    Is it ok to book this online? 

    Yes. Book online and book as early as possible. There is a severe shortage of buses and too many tourists. Most people book weeks in advance. Once booked, you have about a 95% chance of everything going well. Sometimes reservations get bumped or scheduling problems happen. It’s rare. Usually things go fine. Always arrive to the bus station at least 30 minutes before departure in order to check in and check your luggage.

    Will the bus arrive reliably on time?

    More or less. I’ve never had issues. The bus is pretty good and modern and the drivers are reliable. Things happen, but mostly it is fine.

    where do I pick up the bus in Havana?

    Bus station located at the corner of 26th and Zoologico in Nuevo Vedado – west of Vedado… in front of the Havana Zoo

    Where do I collect the bus tickets?

    At the bus station. If you book online then you just show up on the day and time your bus leaves. But show up 30 minutes early or a bit more, just to be safe. You can go the day before to confirm that the station has your reservation. But I warn you, they don’t speak much English at the station, so you would have to find a way to explain that you are simply there to confirm they have your reservation.

    Are these buses reliable and will get us to our destination or should we pay the extra for a taxi?

    Depends how important your budget is. When I was younger, I always took the Viazul. It was my main mode of transportation. I also was on a tight budget. These days I tend to take taxis more just because I can make my own schedule, leave whenever I want, and the trip in a taxi is about half the time. But still, I try to find other people to come in the taxi to share the ride costs.

    When we get to Varadero, how far is the bus stop from the hotels?

    Usually pretty far. The bus terminal is close to the town, and the driver can even drop you off in the town, near the main park. But the large tourist hotels (the good ones at least) are located far away. Up to 20 minutes driving distance from the town. The Varadero peninsula is very long. It depends which hotel you are staying at, but I don’t think you would be able to walk from the station to your hotel, especially not with luggage.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    Here are some answers to your questions.
    1) Water – Nobody recommends foreigners drink it for 2 reasons. 1) most casas stock the fridge with bottled water and charge the guests to drink it. They make a bit of extra money this way, and every little bit counts. 2) Nobody wants to be responsible if the foreigner gets sick. So they cover themselves by always saying the water is iffy, and the street food should be avoided and not to go out after dark, or not to travel with communal taxis. In reality, there is nothing unsafe about any of these things. The water, I have always drank it, right from the tap, or I put it in bottles and put the bottles in the fridge to get cold. And whatever people write on the internet, every single Cuban local drink the tap water. It’s safe. It has a bit of a chlorine taste if you don’t leave it in the fridge for a few hours to de-gas. But the chlorine taste proves that it is safe. Many foreigners do get sick in Cuba, but it is usually because they walk around in the hot sun all day, guzzling beers and rum, and then gorging on a veritable cocktail of fried food. Then they blame the water…
    In some areas outside the city of Havana, you might not want to drink the water. Near the beach, the water will be saltier tasting. It’s not very good. It’s safe to drink, but not tasty.
    In Pinar del Rio and Vinales, I always drink the water. The locals recommended I buy water, but I tasted the tap water and it looked and tasted fine, so I always drank it. And all the locals drank and cooked with it too. It was fine.
    In any case, you can always buy bottled water. It’s about 70 cents for 2 liters. But the problem is that not all stores sell it and of course, it’s heavy to buy in quantity and then bring back to your apartment.
    2) Money Exchange – The deciding factor is what exchange rate you can get for USD to CAD in NYC. If the bank in NYC has bad exchange rates for converting your USD to CAD, then it defeats the purpose of doing the exchange. Most major banks have very bad rates. You can usually find better rates in small (usually Asian owned) exchange offices. I think they probably are money laundering places… but anyway, they often have better exchange rates. In either case, you might only save 3 or 4 % by doing this, so if you are only exchanging 1k or 2k, it might not even be worth it. You might have a net savings of 60$… If it’s a lot of work to run around to exchange offices in NYC, then it might not be worth it.
    CAD and USD is very easily exchanged in Cuba. The passport makes no difference. I recommend exchanging a bit at the airport CADECA, and then more when you get to Havana. I never change all the money in one shot. I always just exchange a few hundred at a time, as I need it. Because if you are stuck with a lot of Cuban pesos at the end of the trip, then there are large exchange fees to change it back to USD or CAD. Better just to exchange what you need. Banks and CADECAS have similar exchange rates on most currencies. I think for USD it is the same at either. But for other currencies, CADECAS are usually marginally better. There are also many more CADECAS than bank branches, so it is more convenient.
    The moneda nacional can only be exchanged in CADECAS. After you do the exchange to CUC, you hand the clerk back a bit of the CUC and ask for MN. I would suggest exchanging 20cuc to MN. This will give you 480MN pesos. It’s good for street food and shopping at the market. I almost exclusively use MN, but I’m a bit strange. Most foreigners mostly use CUC. It really depends what you buy and where you shop. The further you get from tourist areas, the more you depend on MN.
    Also, there is currently a bank run in Cuba. You won’t hear about it in the media, but it is major. There is a rumor that the CUC will be devalued with respect to MN, so the CADECAS are packed with Cubans exchanging their money to anything they can. The run should be over in about a week, and we will know if the rumor was true or false. Either way, there might be some changes to the CUC and MN by the time you arrive in Havana. I’ll give you an update in a week.
    Transportation – I don’t think there are taxis particulares (communal taxis) along the Malecon from Presidents to Prado. You can grab a yellow taxi, and the price for the trip should be about 5cuc, but this always depends on your negotiating skills and the mood of the driver. He might ask for more… in which case I would refuse the trip.
    Your best bet is to walk about a block up from your hotel, to the corner of Linea and Presidentes. But stay more on Linea, about 40 feet from the corner, and stay on the east bound side. There you will find many communal taxis and even some yellow buses. These guys are usually heading to Old Havana and will stop in front of the capitol building, which is beside the Opera/ballet house. If this is where you are going, then it is perfect.
    The communal taxis will cost 10mn for the trip. The yellow buses will cost 5mn for the trip. In both cases you pay once you arrive. I would strongly suggest you try this.
    For going to Pinar, you should book a taxi in advance. A regular taxi will cost about 90$ for this trip. You could also use the Viazul bus. I think this would cost like 12cuc. Or you can get a communal taxi to take you, for about 35$ or less. I have the contact info for a few people who could probably do it. Tell me if you need my help (it’s free). You could arrange it yourself if you go to the taxi depot at the corner of Boyeros and 20 de Mayo, in Vedado. If you speak spanish well, then this is a good place to get cheap rides outside the city.
    If you are staying near the Presidente hotel, then there are many places to shop around there. The whole neighborhood east of the hotel has cheap places to eat. It’s near the US embassy too, so there are lots of people. Also, west of the hotel is great because there is a shopping center at the corner of Paseo and Malecon. You can get all your food and drinks there. There is also a state restaurant on the top floor which has some ok food for a reasonable price.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 7 months ago by Mario.
    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: 14 days in Cuba #13042

    Hi. I do not think that 1000 USD is enough. You might be able to use only 1000USD, but it will be a tight budget. There will not be much space for anything extra. It also depends a lot on what kind of a spender you are. If you are very frugal, then it will be ok. But if you like to drink and have fun, you will need more money. It also depends on how many friends you are going with and how much money they bring. If you are going with 2 or 3 other friends and you will be sharing the cost of taxis and rooms with them, then it will be ok. But if you will be taking a taxi by yourself and renting a private apartment, then your money will go very fast.

     

    The usual recommendation for money is to bring about $100USD per day.

     

    Also, there is still the 10% penalty on USD exchange. So your 1000USD will only be worth 900$ USD once you get to Cuba. The penalty is supposed to be removed soon, but as far as I know, it is still in place.

     

    As for places to visit. I would say Habana, Varadero and Giron are good places. Also, you might like to visit Trinidad, which is about 2 hours east of Giron. It is a very popular place with nice architecture and nature. Also, near Trinidad is the Topes de Collantes natural park which is very beautiful.

     

    I hope this helps.

     

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, for fly fishing the best area is Playa Larga, about 2 hours south of Havana. There are other great places but they are even further away, in the eastern parts of the island, such as the town of Brasil, or Jucaro.

    In Havana, as far as I know there is no fly fishing area. It would be possible to charter a boat in the Marina Hemingway and fish near Havana. It’s expensive and this is mostly for deep sea Marlins. There is a fishing competition held every year at the Marina.  There is a tiny bit of info here: http://autenticacuba.com/water-adventures/fishing/#axzz43mZec0zO

    As far as I know, fishing from the Marina is not a thing which is actively done and promoted. The government is working on developing this as a line of tourism, but it is not there yet.

    Most fishermen will go to Playa Larga, which is beside the Cienaga de Zapata swamp. There is an outfitter with boats that can be chartered. You can also fish without a boat. It’s all set up for fishing and the packages are sold by hotels and tour operators. But you can basically just show up and start fishing if you want.

    A taxi from Havana to Playa Larga is about 95$… sometime a bit less. If you are interested I can call some drivers and find you the best price.

     

    Here are some link with some other discussions on the subject:

     

    https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-cuba/cuba/havana-fly-fishing-day-trip

    http://www.flyanglersonline.com/articles/canada/2011/canada20110110.php

    https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g147271-d148142-r236390163-Ernest_Hemingway_Marina-Havana_Cuba.html

    http://www.descubrircuba.com/index.php?page=en/fishing/cuba-fishing-guide/fishing-details/marina-hemingway

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Mark.

    Your trip is only about 1 week away. We can try to get as many things sorted out as possible.

    How many days are you staying in Havana? Just a night when you arrive? I can find you a good casa for that night.

    As for renting a vehicle, your chances are very low. There is a huge car shortage in Cuba. Most people are not able to find anything. Usually even if you book a reservation for a car online, when you arrive there will be nothing for you, or you will have to bribe the rental clerk. Not joking.. that’s how it works in Cuba.

    Driving along the north coast will be hard… There is no highway along the coast. The main highway in Cuba runs through the middle of the island. And it’s not really a big highway anyway. For most of the way it is just 2 lanes, one in either direction. Also note that rental cars do not have GPS. You will be driving around Cuba with only a map. Even taxi drivers get lost on the road… Honestly, even if you are able to rent a car, I would not recommend it.

     

    You might consider using a driver to take you around. It’s more relaxing and the cost will be roughly the same. Cuba is not really a place where you “road trip”. You don’t just drive around casually without a destination because rest stops are few and far between, hotels are non existent on the highway (you would need to find casas at each stop) and restaurants/gas stations are not plentiful in the countryside. Also, despite being a very safe country, the highways at night can be dangerous.

     

    I would highly encourage you to structure the trip. Name 5 or 6 towns that you want to see and plan a taxi ride to each (or book a rental car if you want/can). Once you are in each town, you can easily walk around for a bit and find a casa on your own. The only place that I would suggest strongly to book a place in advance is in Havana, as the city is larger and rental casa vacancy is low.

     

    Anyway,

    I hope this helps. If you want a casa, please check out the casa section on the website and contact a few with the contact form… the landlord or my assistants in Havana will contact you to sort out the reservations.

     

    take care and feel free to ask any more questions.

     

    Mario Rizzi

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, no problem. I will post the reply here too.

     

    Hi, it should be very easy to find areas with no tourists. In Havana I would say 70 percent of tourists stay in old Havana. 10 percent stay in central Havana and maybe 20 percent in Vedado.

    In Miramar, there are foreigners, but those people are mostly there for work or they are traveling in organized tours, so they don’t leave their hotels.

    In Playa, there are no tourists walking around. In Marianao or la Lisa, there are no tourists. In San Miguel del padron or Guanabacoa or El Cerro, there are no tourists.

    Basically, as soon as you get out if the 3 main neighborhoods,( Vedado, centro Havana and old Havana) there are no tourists anywhere.

    I write a bit about these neighborhoods in my guidebook and how to get to them. The cheapest way is to take the bus. And honestly, you can take any bus and they will take you out of the city. All the buses go out. Here is a bus routes map. It looks complicated, but trust me, once you are there and see a bus, you can just check the number and it is pretty easy to find out more or less where it’s going. And I always ask the driver too.

    http://www.cuba-individual.com/bilder/Plano_rutas_Habana.jpg

    It’s fun to get out if the city and I would highly recommend it.

    Please ask me if you have more questions.

    Take care
    Mario

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 9 months ago by Mario.
    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211
    in reply to: CUC vs. MN #12173

    Hi Kristin.

     

    I have been to Cuba dozens of times. I have lived there for several years, despite having Canada as my official home. I just came back from 5 weeks in Havana.

    I can assure you 100%, without even a shadow of a doubt, that there is absolutely no issue with you using Moneda Nacional. You can use the currency anywhere it is accepted. You can do everything with it that a regular Cuban would do with it. There will be no trouble at all. In fact, there are plans to remove the CUC currency completely and have the Moneda Nacional be the only official currency. In preparation for this change, most state stores now list their prices in both CUC and MN (before the prices would have only been in CUC). It is not known exactly when this change will happen, but probably within the next 12 months.

    Some places require that tourists pay more than Cuban residents, and in this case, prices are only marked in CUC for tourists. For example, if you go to the Havana Zoo, the price is like 5MN for locals, but 5CUC for tourists. You can try to sneak in as a Cuban, but it only works if you look like a Cuban (ie, dark skin, and speak perfect Cuban Spanish).

    Lastly, there are some scammers in Cuba, especially in Havana, who will hang around outside clubs or popular places and tell tourists that they have to pay in CUC rather than MN. A great example of this is at the Coppelia ice cream shop on 23rd street in Havana. The ice cream shop has 2 lineups in front. 1 lineup is if you want to pay in MN. The other lineup is if you want to pay in CUC. Obviously, every local goes to wait in the MN lineup, and the line stretches around the block. Most tourists also go wait in the MN lineup too, because it’s cheap and it’s perfectly legal for them to buy their ice cream in MN. Some tourists don’t want to wait, so they just go to the CUC lineup, and don’t care… They get their ice cream in 1 minute and then leave.

    But, sometimes, scammer will wait around the ice cream shop and scam unsuspecting tourists. They will find tourists in the MN line and tell them that they absolutely must buy the ice cream in the CUC line. So, the tourists (they don’t know any better) go with the scammers to the CUC line, get ripped off, and the scammer makes a commission. Avoid scammers. Avoid anybody who is trying to guess which country you are from. Avoid people who start talking to you for no reason and want to be your best friend. Some tourists go on vacation and let their guard down. Scammers take advantage of this. Just be careful. I don’t know where you are from, but let’s say you are from New York, or London, or Toronto… if you are walking down the street and a random guy starts following you and then trying to guess where you are from and then offers to take you to “the best Mojito shop” you would not go with him, right? Even if he seemed nice, you would probably not go… Same thing in Havana. The only people you have to listen to are the police… And they never interfere with tourists anyway.

     

    Anyway, I don’t know your friend, and he or she is probably a great person, but on this point, I know that I am absolutely correct. You can use either MN or CUC. There is absolutely no law against using MN. There is also no law about taking collective taxis (taxis particulares or colectivos). As a foreigner you can freely take those. Some people say that foreigners cannot… these people are wrong.

     

    Note: For some things such as long distance travel, foreigners cannot always use some services that locals can use. The government subsidizes certain air travel for Cubans and bus services. You can ride on Cubana Airlines, but you will pay more than a Cuban would pay for flights within Cuba. There is also a bus line (Omnibus and Astro) which is usually reserved for Cubans and is super cheap. The foreigners can use the Viazul service, which is a bit more expensive, but also has newer buses with bathrooms and everything, so it is worth it.

     

    For exchanging money, go to a CADECA and exchange your foreign money into some CUC. Do a  bit at a time, fo maybe let’s say 200USD or whatever currency, into CUC. You will get a reciept for your transaction. Check it and make sure it is correct (99.5 % of the time it is correct because everything is computerized). Then take 20cuc and hand it back to the teller and ask for Moneda Nacional. The teller might ask you what kind of bills you want (it doesn’t really matter, but 10s and 20s are more convenient) and she might ask if you want to exchange the whole 20cuc to MN. Say yes, (all = Todo). And she will hand you back 480 pesos MN. That should be enough to get you started. Sandwiches, hot dogs, soft drinks (in a can) are all usually about 10 pesos. Ice creams are 3 pesos. Frozzens (soft serve, low dairy ice cream) is usually 1 peso… So you have an idea of how far 480 pesos MN can get you. Your buying power is pretty good, at least for fast food.

    For tipping, make sure to check you bill. Sometimes the tip is included (tip is called a propina). If it’s not included, you can leave the tip in either currency. In fancy places, where you pay with CUC, I recommend leaving a tip in CUC. For smaller places (if your bill is under 10cuc for example) you can leave something in CUC or MN. And you don’t have to tip much. Most locals will not tip much, or anything. For example, if you go to a fast food place and get an egg sandwich and a juice and a coffee, your bill might be like 20MN. You don’t have to leave a tip. But if you want to, you can leave like a peso or 2 on the table, or a 10 cents CUC. The server will be happy, but she won’t be expecting it.

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Susan.

     

    It sounds like a very nice trip. You will get to see an excellent example of the areas of Cuba least touched by tourism.

    On this website, we do not have all of our casas posted. My assistants in Havana can certainly help you book a casa in Santa Clara, Camaguey and Holguin. I am not sure if we have good contacts for casas in Bayamo, Santiago or Baracoa.

     

    I would suggest that you contact my assistants in Havana at the following email casas.bestcubaguide@gmail.com

    For other casas you should check out the following website. I have found it to have very reasonable prices and the service was good. http://www.bbinnvinales.com/bedandbreakfastrentweb/

     

    Also, note that for many of the places in the far east of Cuba, you are best off simply finding a casa by walking around the town. Tourism in these areas is low and vacancies for casas is high. You can always find some good deals just by walking around for a few minutes and asking around for a casa. Honestly, that is the way I usually find my casas.

     

    take care,

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Yes, I have a few good casas in Guanabo and a lot of casas in Varadero. I have not put them on the website yet. I will send you an email and we can work out all the details.

    I will mention 1 thing… Guanabo beach is not what it used to be. The weather this year has really killed it. Very sad. But there is a beach close to Guanabo… about 3 minutes away by bus, that is still wonderful. It’s called Playa Santa Maria. I will be posting some info shortly on the website about how to get there from Guanabo.. You basically just take the bus and it’s the first stop. But in Playa Santa Maria there are very few rental properties. So usually clients stay in Guanabo and then just hop on the bus to go to Santa Maria for the beach.

     

    take care,

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, I can take care of the taxi, no problem. The drive from the Havana airport to Vedado would be 25$. The taxi driver would be waiting for you at the arrivals gate of the Havana airport and he would track your flight, so even if it is delayed, he would wait. He could take you to wherever you want in Vedado. I could organize the return airport transfer too, but since things might change and it’s never a good idea to plan too far in advance, I would suggest you simply tell your landlord and let them organize it. It will not be more than 25$, and some landlords are able to find friends to do it for cheaper. I will send you this message as an email so that we can discuss the details.

     

    take care

    Mario

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

     Hi, ok, I will give you some facts and then some opinion. And then some questions that you should ask yourself, to best determine where you want to go.

     

    So, first, facts

    1. The trip from Holguin to Havana is about 12 to 14 hours, in the Viazul bus. It costs 44cuc per person. You can take a car and maybe pay just a bit more, and it will be faster, but not much faster. It’s always a long trip. And with a car, it is more dangerous. I have done it in a car, and would probably not do it again. The highway from Holguin to Havana is mostly only 2 lanes… one lane in each direction. It’s pretty scary to be driving at 100km per hour and then have another car or bus, just inches away from you, driving at the same speed, in the opposite direction. It’s a beautiful drive through the country… stunning… But you have to trust your driver.
    2. To get from Havana to Vinales is another 3 or 4 hours by bus. 2.5 hours by car. 
    3. To get to Parque Nacional Peninsula de Gunanahacabibes (Let’s just call it Maria la Gorda beach) is another few hours.  All told, to get from Holguin to Maria la Gorda is like 17 hours, if everything goes well… That’s basically a day in the bus, and it can easily take longer. 
    4. Varadero is touristy. But 90% of the beaches in Cuba are touristy. Tourism is the main force in the economy of Cuba. If there is a good beach, it’s safe to say that other people will be there. The hidden beaches all have defects (rocky, hard to get to, no shade, deep water, coarse sand, polluted, jellyfish issues, etc… But there are hidden beaches which are good enough. And I too like finding them, and have found some nice ones. And they are closer to Holguin than they are to Havana. I will explain this later.
    5. Around Holguin, there are some nice towns and major cities and popular beaches. Within a couple of hours of Holguin there are the cities of Camaguey, La Tunas and Santiago. There are the beaches of Manzanillo, Guardalavaca and Santa Lucia. There is the national park near Baracoa and the Parque Turquino with Cuba’s tallest mountain.

     

    Opinion:

    I get maybe 5 messages per week for people landing in Havana and asking me how they can visit the eastern side of the island. They want to leave Havana and go to Santiago and Baracoa and Holguin…. And I have to be honest and tell them that while they can do that, it takes a long bus ride and there is really nothing that they will see on that side of the island that they cannot see closer to Havana. And the same can be said if you are landing in Holguin. My opinion would be to stay in the eastern part of the island and explore it and enjoy it… And not waste time in a bus trying to see the western part. It’s really not worth it. I have been to the eastern parts of Cuba many times, and I prefer those areas much more than the western parts.

    Vinales is beautiful. It’s one of my favorite parts of Cuba. But its a valley… Scenic, yes, but it’s a valley. And you can find valleys that are very similar in the national parks around Santiago.

    Trinidad is beautiful. It’s an old world town, surrounded by a valley. The architecture dates back to the 1600s… But in the end, it’s just a cluster of old houses in a valley. It’s fun, and you can do a lot, but how many old houses are you going to visit? And, honestly, everything in Cuba dates back hundreds of years.. In Baracoa, close to Holguin, Christopher Columbus landed in the 1480s and established the first settlement in the new world. That’s even more interesting to me. And Baracoa is connected to the rest of Cuba by just a dirt road.. so the place is very remote and well preserved.

    90% of tourists come to Cuba via Havana or Varadero. If you want to get off the tourist path, then you have a huge advantage by coming in through Holguin. Use it to your advantage. Don’t waste it by arriving in Holguin and then immediately getting on the Havana tourist path.

    I can understand why you would want to go to Trinidad, Vinales and Maria la Gorda. They are all beautiful places, and they have all been covered extensively on Lonely Planet and other websites. The reason for this is because they are mobbed with tourists day and night. These same tourists rarely get to see the eastern part of the island, because it is far away and off the beaten track… There is far less info on things to see near Holguin. This is your huge advantage. And I can’t tell you all the places, because not even I know them, but part of the experience in Cuba is discovering them for yourself.

     

    My Itinerary for you – 

    Day 1) Land in Holguin. Check it out. Take a bici taxi tour around the city. Maybe it costs 20cuc and takes 2 hours. Go for it. I have done it and loved it.

    Day 2) more exploration in Holguin. Climb the Loma de la Cruz (giant hill in the middle of the city).

    Day 3) Go to Santiago de Cuba. Explore the city. It’s large and hot, and honestly, I don’t like it. But see it anyway.

    Day 4) More Santiago. It has a rich history. It was the former capital city. There is lots to do. Did I mention, it will be hot?.. Very hot.

    Day 5) Go to the mountains. West of the city there are the Sierra Maestra mountains and the Pico Turquino (highest peak in Cuba). In this area, Fidel Castro hid with his small army and staged many attacks on the government, during the revolution. This area is super rich in history, not to mention that it is stunningly beautiful and way off the tourist path. Go horseback riding and hiking. You probably won’t find many photos of this online.. mostly because only hardcore tourists make it this far.

    Day 6) Explore the mountains more or stay in a small town beside the reserve. There are thousands of beaches along this mountain range, along the ocean side… Ask a local taxi driver to drop you off somewhere and wait a few hours. It will not be expensive. Have a day in the sun. You deserve it.

    Day 7) Go back to Santiago and take the Viazul, or a taxi to Baracoa. You will not regret this trip. Baracoa is a poor, ocean side community, and the first place settled by Columbus in Cuba. It has a large mountain and the huge Toa river passing beside it. Bathe in the river and walk through the jungle leading to the mountain. It rains every day in Baracoa… And honestly, if you don’t like rain, it gets old pretty fast, but if you rent bikes and really get to explore the area, you will be distracted by the beautiful scenery and not mind so much.

    Day 8) Still in Baracoa…

    Day 9) Get a taxi to take you to Moa. A small town.. But it’s the only town in the area which has taxi service. There is a dirt road leading there. Get to the town, and then hop in another taxi to go to Guardalavaca Beach.. Or you can just hang around Moa and explore the area.. There are hundreds of isolated beaches in this area.

    Day 10) Guardalavaca is maybe the second or third best beach in Cuba, and far lower in tourists that Varadero. You might like it. Also the area is large, so you can easily go 5 minutes away and find you own beach refuge. Stay a few days enjoying this area.. You will not regret it. Meet locals and they will tell you about and probably take you to their favorite places. Do it… In Guardalavaca there are some tourist resorts. There are not many casas particulares. You might have to stay in a nearby town, in a casa, and then either go to Guardalavaca for the beach or find a different beach (always in the same area) closer to your casa. It’s not hard. As I said, there are beaches everywhere in this location.

    Day 13) Return to Holguin. You have just completed the exact route that most foreigners to Cuba would only dream of. You missed Havana, Vinales and Trinidad and Varadero… Missed them completely.. But you got to experience Cuba’s western tip, fully. Cubans call this area the Oriente… And you saw it, before 99% of other people. Before all the other tourists ruin it.

     

    And next time, if you want to see the western side of Cuba, make sure to land in Havana… And you can see what a different world that place is.. (It’s not as good).

     

    Questions and tips:

    1. Did I totally mess your plans up with my itinerary? Trust me, if I was going to Holguin, this is what I would do.
    2. Why do you want to go to Havana? I just came back from 5 weeks there. It’s beautiful, yes, but it’s not the be all and end all of Cuba. Nothing says that you have to visit Havana while in Cuba. If your friends say that you have to visit Havana while in Cuba, they are wrong.
    3. Vinales and Trinidad. Again, beautiful, but Cuba is filled with beautiful places. Do you want to find your own, or just visit places that are already visited by thousands of people each day?
    4. Varadero has beautiful beaches. I love Varadero, despite the commercial atmosphere. Guardalavaca or any beaches along the eastern keys will be just as nice with a lot fewer tourists. 
    5. Maria la Gorda beach. People go here for scuba. It’s the best scuba in Cuba, they say. But more than that, it has a scuba complex with lodging and a whole system set up for tourism. That’s probably the reason it is the most popular scuba area. But or else, you can do scuba all over Cuba, and the facilities are almost as good. A good guide can show you reefs and all sorts of nice things. In my opinion, there is no reason to drive 15 hours to a beach, when you are on an island with hundreds of beautiful beaches.

    Sorry if some parts of this message seem overly direct. I was in a very good mood while writing it, but I think I was just a bit jealous of your plans and tense because I wish I could be planning this trip myself. And sometimes my writing is just a bit less emotional than I would like. But I think you are in a perfect position to have a very memorable and special trip to Cuba. I honestly want you to take advantage of that. And on your subsequent trips, you can do the western route and see the well worn Cuba trails. That’s my opinion.

     

    take care

    Mario Rizzi

     

     

     

    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi Eileen.

    You can contact Claudia via our website. The email address is casas.bestcubaguide@gmail.com .

    For a full list of all the casas particulares that we offer in Cuba, you can check out https://bestcubaguide.com/cheap-casas-particulares-havana-cuba/

    When you use the contact form at the bottom of each casa listing, Claudia is automatically sent an email so she can call the casa directly and email you back.

    But if you have more questions, do not hesitate to ask me. Just post it below and I can take care of providing you an answer to the best of my ability.

     

    take care,

    Mario

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 12 months ago by Mario.
    Mario
    Keymaster
    Post count: 211

    Hi, honestly, it will be better to be in Vinales. Although Remedios is nice, there will be a lot more fun activities in Vinales. 

    If you are into adventure and cave exploration, you might have a great time with that in Vinales. There is a website for some more information on it. You can take a look here. http://www.cubarocks.co.uk/caves-in-cuba

    As for restaurants on Christmas day, you should know that I would recommend making a reservation beforehand. I can take care of this for you, or you can just ask your casa landlord to do it.

    For the actual restaurant, I would suggest 2 places:

    1. El Carmelo (locate on 23rd street, near the corner of H, right beside the Riviera theater.) The food will be good and plentiful. But stick to the ofertas (meal deals). The waitresses will try to up-sell you all sorts of fancy things, but those will cost a lot more and you will likely be disappointed. But the ofertas are what 99% of people order and they are great. Escalope de Cerdo is their signature dish. You get a huge portion of breaded, fried pork steak. It will be good. It costs about 5$ and the meal includes a beer or other drink and a dessert (postre) which is usually a scoop of ice cream. If you are in the mood for carbs, they also have lasagna. The portion is usually massive. It’s nothing fancy, and it’s not authentic Italian, but it’s not terrible and as I said, it’s huge. It costs $2.50 (no beer or dessert included). This is a state restaurant. Just check your bill at the end of the meal, in case the waitress added extra items. If the waitress gives you any problems, always immediately ask to speak with the manager. It’s a good restaurant, but you just have to always watch out for scams. It will probably have some Christmas decor for the holidays. They have a small facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/El-Carmelo-de-23-y-H-313120645377164/timeline/
    2. La Catedral: This is a private paladar restaurant. It is independently owned. It is located at Calle 8, #106, between Calzada and 5th, in Vedado. The phone number is 830 0793. It’s very popular. The decor is good. It was the most popular new restaurant in Vedado last year. Prices are good too. Just marginally higher than El Carmelo. An Escalope de Cedro is 4$. The beers are $1.40. Ice cream is 1$. So, it costs a bit more, but you won’t break the bank. They have a lot of other foods on the menu too. Since it is private, there is less chance that the waitresses will scam you, just because the owner’s reputation is on the line. The prices that I quoted above are from a few months ago. Maybe they have changed a bit, but I think they are more or less similar. I don’t know if they will have changes for Christmas. They have some great reviews on Trip Advisor: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g147271-d5826028-Reviews-La_Catedral-Havana_Cuba.html

    I hope this helps. If you need reservations or want any extra help, just tell me.

    Also, I have an assistant in Havana, named Claudia. Her phone number is 053895036. If you should ever need some last minute help, you can call her when you are in Havana to take care of things or if you have any issues. It’s free.

    Have a great day,

    Mario

     

     

     

     

     

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